Our vacations are often short, yet we invest a lot of time and money into making them happen. Why? Because a two-week vacation lasts a lot longer than two weeks. The memories we accumulate while traveling are stories we get to keep for a lifetime – if we can remember them. But that’s the tricky part. Memories grow fuzzy over time.
Most people rely on a camera to keep their travel memories bright. I love taking photographs when I travel, but there are so many details our lenses can’t capture – from sounds and smells, to stories we hear from fascinating strangers, to our “inner journey” – the big emotions and personal discoveries we experience in foreign environments.
That’s why I’ve been journaling about my travels since childhood. Writing down my experiences keeps my memories vivid. It also makes me a more aware traveler, bringing me more deeply in touch with my surroundings. Writing a travel diary is a struggle for many people, however. For some, the challenge is finding the right words or choosing the details that fully capture the spirit of their adventures. For others, the problem is simply finding time to write during an exciting trip.
Here are some tips to help you write more effective travel diaries, with links to longer articles about those tips:
Write fast! Don’t try to create your best writing while traveling. Well polished prose requires more time than you have in the middle of your adventure. Instead, try what I call Speed journaling tips Splash lots of bold detail onto your pages quickly, without worrying whether the writing is good. How does this make for a better journal? Our travel diaries shouldn’t be the places where we create our best writing. They are tools to capture and retain as many memories as possible. If you want to write well-crafted stories, save the editing until you’re home. While you’re on the road, just get all those details onto the page.
Scan your senses: Before you begin writing, take a quick mental scan of all of your senses. What were you seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling? You don’t need to write about all five senses, but sifting through them before you write will help you capture more subtle details. You can do this as you go about your day too. As you explore, examine each individual sense. You’ll become more aware of the world around you. Later, when you sit down to write, you’ll already have the details organized in your mind. Avoid what I call “empty adjectives.” Words like “beautiful” or “fascinating” do nothing to paint a mental picture. Instead, go for lots of specific details.
Remember your “inner journey.” There’s a tendency when traveling to focus on the external, but being in a new place can also take us to new places in our own minds. This is what I call the inner journey – the unique thoughts and emotions that occur when we venture outside our cultural comfort zones. Writing about our inner journeys can feel tricky at first, in part because we each have an inner censor who likes to tell us what we should and shouldn’t write. Once you learn how to elude your inner censor, you’ll write more honest and exciting journal entries that can be powerful forces for self-discovery.
Journal With Me in Vietnam!
I’ve been teaching travel journaling and travel tale writing workshops for more than two decades, and I’m thrilled to be partnering with Wildland Adventures on a Vietnam: Travel Writing with Dave Fox. We’ll explore Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. Along the way, I’ll teach you how to write about your experiences. Whether your goal is to write more meaningful travel diaries for yourself, or if you’re aspiring to break into professional freelance travel writing, I’ll teach you how to write fantastic travel journals, and how to then transform those “rough draft” diaries into captivating travel tales you can share with friends and family or pitch to newspapers, magazines, and travel anthology books.
I first visited Vietnam in 2008 on what I thought would be a one-time vacation. I became so mesmerized by the energy, the people, and the delicious chaos of Ho Chi Minh City, I ended up moving here. If you’d like to explore the real Vietnam on a tour that will offer lots of local experiences, and come home with a journal full of stories and a new set of skills to help you write about your past and future journeys as well, I’d love for you to join us.
Dave Fox is author of the book Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Tales (and still have time to enjoy your trip!) For 16 years, Dave guided tours in Europe for Rick Steves. He has lived in Southeast Asia since 2011, where he works as a freelance travel writer and writing coach. He also teaches online travel journaling and travel writing workshops. You’ll find lots more of his writing tips and travel tales on his website, Globejotting.com.